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Tag: Moby-Dick

The elemental beauty and depth that can be found only in great works of literature.

I’m still not above watching vapid reality shows about meth-addicted Tiger tamers. Nor am I dismissive of the compelling fare we find on streaming media — we are living in a golden age of middlebrow culture. Certainly the world doesn’t need another writer praising the virtues of Moby-Dick. And that’s not my point. Sitting here in isolation, I come to praise the elemental beauty and depth that can be found only in great works of literature. Moby-Dick demanded my attention, imagination, and time. — David Harsanyi on reading Moby Dick

Ahab’s Return by Jeffrey Ford

Ahab’s Return by Jeffrey Ford is an unusual and intriguing book. The book focuses on the two iconic figures in Moby Dick – Captain Ahab and Ishmael, ok mainly Ahab.

Ford creatively furthers their story in the setting of 1853 New York. He takes an angle that I would not have expected – continuing the life of Captain Ahab (remember he was dragged to his death by a harpoon line attached to Moby Dick) and his quest to find his family after his long odyssey in the Pacific. Ahab meets up with George Harrow, a reporter for a rag newspaper, and the two try to find Ahab’s lost family.

The book is part mystery (finding Ahab’s family) and part fantasy (the mythical characters). The mythical characters and the settings are intriguing. I have never been a big fantasy reader, but this one kept me interested throughout because of the strong plot and engaging characters.

A good read for fantasy and mystery readers alike.

 

Moby-Dick in Pictures: One Drawing for Every Page

Moby-Dick, Cain and Joan of Arc in the New York Times

Three iconic figures and three books I want to read covered in the New York Times:

Kathryn Harrison reviews Nathaniel Philbrick’s recently released Why Read Moby-Dick?

Philbrick, whose “In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex” recounted the real-life inspiration for Melville’s shipwreck, wears his erudition lightly. He broaches the novel in quirky thematic fashion, with gracefully written compact essays on topics like landlessness, chowder and sharks. His voice is that of a beloved professor lecturing with such infectious enthusiasm that one can almost, for a moment, believe in the possibility of a popular renaissance for Melville. But convincing and beguiling though his slender apologia is (the whole of it taking up less than a quarter of the space allotted to the Norton Critical Edition’s appendixes), Philbrick doesn’t have an audience held captive in a classroom.

Still, his Bible metaphor applies in that not only is “Moby-Dick” a big fat book about the wages of sin and the elusiveness of redemption, but also one to which zealots return even as potential admirers push it away, put off by its size and its longtime residence on literature courses’ reading lists.

Robert Pinsky tackles Jose Saramago’s Cain

In a grieving but marveling spirit, Saramago remakes, from Cain’s viewpoint, not only the story of Cain and his parents and his brother but also — with Cain entering each narrative as a time-traveling participant — the tales of Abraham and Isaac, Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot’s wife, Lot and his daughters, Noah and his sons. The narrative veers drastically away from tradition and back toward it and then away again with radical aplomb. The effect is sometimes comic, but with a complex, outraged commitment far beyond parody. Comedy and boundless complexity: Saramago’s novels have been called parables, but they are not allegories.

Lastly, Sarah Towers explores Kimberly Cutter’s The Maid: A Novel of Joan of Arc

But, as Twain observed, pinning down the mysterious interior of this woman — imaginatively experiencing how she came to be — has confounded many a writer, including Twain. Far too often Cutter’s Joan (or “Jehanne,” as the novel has it) is flat, overexplained, fragmented: “She wept. Horrified. Weeping, furious at herself for weeping. Amazed how much the words hurt her. ‘How dare you?’ she screamed.” Many of the scenes are fragmented as well — in a novel of 287 pages there are 150 chapters, which boils down to less than two pages per chapter — so it feels as if Cutter, unsure how to embody Joan, is in a race to get to the end of the story.

To Cutter’s credit, it takes true Joan of Arc-ian boldness to attempt this oft-told story in the first place, and the reader certainly recognizes intellectually, if not viscerally, Cutter’s passion for her heroine. The ultimate problem is that Joan of Arc’s sublimity makes it incredibly difficult, like hitting a bull’s-eye from a great distance, to do her “divine soul” justice, to allow the fictional record to reflect the real woman with as much force and ingenuity as the historical one.

So there you have it. Three fascinating characters (whether that is Ahab or the whale in Moby-Dick) and three fascinating, at least to me, books. Have any of you read these book already? Do they seem as interesting to you as they do to me?

Moby-Dick, Cain and Joan of Arc in the New York Times

Three iconic figures and three books I want to read covered in the New York Times:

Kathryn Harrison reviews Nathaniel Philbrick’s recently released Why Read Moby-Dick?

Philbrick, whose “In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex” recounted the real-life inspiration for Melville’s shipwreck, wears his erudition lightly. He broaches the novel in quirky thematic fashion, with gracefully written compact essays on topics like landlessness, chowder and sharks. His voice is that of a beloved professor lecturing with such infectious enthusiasm that one can almost, for a moment, believe in the possibility of a popular renaissance for Melville. But convincing and beguiling though his slender apologia is (the whole of it taking up less than a quarter of the space allotted to the Norton Critical Edition’s appendixes), Philbrick doesn’t have an audience held captive in a classroom.

Still, his Bible metaphor applies in that not only is “Moby-Dick” a big fat book about the wages of sin and the elusiveness of redemption, but also one to which zealots return even as potential admirers push it away, put off by its size and its longtime residence on literature courses’ reading lists.

Robert Pinsky tackles Jose Saramago’s Cain

In a grieving but marveling spirit, Saramago remakes, from Cain’s viewpoint, not only the story of Cain and his parents and his brother but also — with Cain entering each narrative as a time-traveling participant — the tales of Abraham and Isaac, Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot’s wife, Lot and his daughters, Noah and his sons. The narrative veers drastically away from tradition and back toward it and then away again with radical aplomb. The effect is sometimes comic, but with a complex, outraged commitment far beyond parody. Comedy and boundless complexity: Saramago’s novels have been called parables, but they are not allegories.

Lastly, Sarah Towers explores Kimberly Cutter’s The Maid: A Novel of Joan of Arc

But, as Twain observed, pinning down the mysterious interior of this woman — imaginatively experiencing how she came to be — has confounded many a writer, including Twain. Far too often Cutter’s Joan (or “Jehanne,” as the novel has it) is flat, overexplained, fragmented: “She wept. Horrified. Weeping, furious at herself for weeping. Amazed how much the words hurt her. ‘How dare you?’ she screamed.” Many of the scenes are fragmented as well — in a novel of 287 pages there are 150 chapters, which boils down to less than two pages per chapter — so it feels as if Cutter, unsure how to embody Joan, is in a race to get to the end of the story.

To Cutter’s credit, it takes true Joan of Arc-ian boldness to attempt this oft-told story in the first place, and the reader certainly recognizes intellectually, if not viscerally, Cutter’s passion for her heroine. The ultimate problem is that Joan of Arc’s sublimity makes it incredibly difficult, like hitting a bull’s-eye from a great distance, to do her “divine soul” justice, to allow the fictional record to reflect the real woman with as much force and ingenuity as the historical one.

So there you have it. Three fascinating characters (whether that is Ahab or the whale in Moby-Dick) and three fascinating, at least to me, books. Have any of you read these book already? Do they seem as interesting to you as they do to me?

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